How to make an abacus - Ancient China Projects
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How to make an abacus

Chinese Abacus
Chinese abacus, made by kids at
Laurelhurst School, Portland Oregon

People in China began to use an abacus to help them with math problems maybe as early as 500 BC. Nobody knows whether somebody in China invented the abacus, or whether they learned about it from people in the Persian Empire (modern Iran), who started using the abacus about the same time.

Find out how to use an abacus for adding big numbers quickly.

You can make your own abacus by taking a wooden picture frame and fitting another piece of wood across it the long way so it fits tightly. You can glue it and nail it in place with small nails. Drill small holes all along the inside edges, and cut wires to fit. String beads on the wires and jam them into the holes.

Or follow the directions here or here.

Bibliography and further reading about Chinese mathematics:

Science in Ancient China, by George Beshore (1998). .

The Ambitious Horse: Ancient Chinese Mathematics Problems, by Lawrence Swienciki (2001).

Ancient China: 2,000 Years of Mystery and Adventure to Unlock and Discover (Treasure Chest), by Chao-Hui Jenny Liu (1996). Lots of activities , including a Chinese calligraphy set.

A History of Chinese Mathematics, by Jean-Claude Martzloff (1997). For adults. Explains the differences between Chinese and Euclidean (Greek) mathematics.

Zero: The Biography of a Dangerous Idea, by Charles Seife and Matt Zimet (2000).

Other China activities:

* Paper-making
* Making a compass
* Making a kite

A day in ancient China
More about addition
More about Mathematics in China


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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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